Pankaj Mishra – Spokesman for the developing world


The narrative of world history has basically been written by and for white folks.  The age of Imperialism and the Victorian nineteenth century is generally presented as one of commercial expansion, scientific progress and liberal political structures.


For the colonies, however, these events, far from leading to a utopia where liberty and prosperity reigned, were experienced as catastrophes. The fratricide of World War I discredited the western model in the eyes of its colonial subjects. Pankaj Mishra, an Indian intellectual, novelist, historian and social analyst, has written a brilliant and important book: From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals who Remade Asia.


Mishra explains how the traditional societies in India, China and the Middle East were destroyed by superior Western arms.  The overriding need, then, from the colonial standpoint, was to devise a system that enabled the “backward” societies to modernize, arm and defend themselves without having to adopt western social structures wholesale. This is what the current conflict in the Middle East is all about, claims of terrorism notwithstanding.


Mishra is a widely read omnivore who writes brilliantly and accessibly.  Until this book, I, like most Eurocentric educated white people, had always thought that modern history started with World War I.  Mishra shows how it was the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, which stunned Europe and its colonies alike, that is the real starting point of Twentieth Century history. Colonial subjects took heart from this unprecedented defeat of a white European nation by a colored race. There is a straight line running from the Battle of Tsushima to the helicopters lifting from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon seventy years later. This book is not to be missed.


As mentioned before, when the Congo became independent in 1960 there were only seventeen native college graduates in that nation of 14 million, none of whom were doctors or engineers.  By comparison, 2% of American women were college graduates in 1940.  Pankaj Mishra, born in India in 1969, is the leading edge of the second or third generation of native educated people from the developing world who are correcting the western biased narrative of history and creating the capacity to speak up for and defend themselves.  A lot bloodshed could be avoided by reading Mishra and half a dozen books from his bibliography.


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